An interview with the seventh and eighth generations

Jan Richard Krepel was the seventh generation to run the company, managing the family business from 1984. His son Bernhard took over in 2012. Krepel now celebrates its 150th anniversary, a good moment to look back with the two of them.

All previous generations of the Krepel family lived and worked on the Klarenbeek Estate. It seems only natural that the current generation would also live and work here.

JR: It wasn't the obvious thing to do. I've always told Bernhard to see a bit of the world first. And that's what he did. However, from a fairly young age, he already knew that he wanted to play a role in our family business.

B: Yes, that's right. I never felt I was expected to take over the company, but I grew up in it and I've always liked it. For example, we used to go to the Hanover Stock Exchange with the family, which I saw more as a family outing. We often stayed over the weekend as well. That's quite an adventure for a child. I also went frequently to the factory, and every now and then my father took me with him when he went to see a customer. At primary school I already knew that I wanted to work in the family business someday. The commercial aspect attracted me most.

JR: I, on the other hand, spent most of my time at the factory. I remember it all quite well. Having finished secondary school, I was drafted for military service. When I came out of military service on 31 December, I almost immediately joined the family business on 2 January. I didn't follow any training for that, but learned in practice. At the end of my first day working at the machine, my coat was full of wood splinters. The next day I was given my father's dust jacket to wear. I'm really a doer, so I was mainly to be found in the factory, although I did some calculation work from time to time.

B: You were more the technical man. I'm a doer, too, but I don’t like working at a machine. I spend a lot of time at the factory, but mainly to see how something is made, or to get ideas. We are constantly working on further improving processes and quality.

JR: In the olden days a lot of the work was still done by hand. Where, at the time, 25 operations were performed to complete the work, we now only need six. Now it's all done mechanically. Back in those days you could choose between a number of wood species and models. We knew the product that needed to be packed. We measured a few things and then made a model, which was subsequently sent to the customer. Sometimes three or four new versions of the model had to be made.

B: You can hardly imagine now how labour-intensive and time-consuming it all was. It still happens that you have to make several samples, but you can prevent many problems by using good drawings and good designs.

Entrepreneurship and the will to keep innovating and developing is in the Krepel family's DNA. That's also reflected in what each of you has been able to achieve.

JR: The world is constantly changing, so you go with the flow. You need to learn to adapt if you want to be able to keep answering your customers' questions.

B: You have over 50 years of experience, I've only been doing this job for 15 years. For you, the biggest step was to start a company in Poland for the production of wooden packaging. That was a very good step for the family business.

JR: The people in Poland were inventive, they still are. That was quite a difference with how things were going in the Netherlands at the time. Here, we made good cigar boxes, but there were few people who could meet more complex production demands. While in Poland they made the most beautiful things. That really surpassed our expectations!

B: You managed to start a business in a country where you knew nothing and nobody. You needed premises, suppliers and machines. You built everything from scratch. Considering that there is now a group of highly skilled craftsmen who only work on wooden boxes, I find that very admirable.

JR: Together with my wife I went to Poland at the time, it was by the end of October. I saw many small businesses, old and primitive. I thought the trip was going to be a total waste of time. But then we came to a small town where we stumbled on a kitchen factory which housed a number of small machines. The owner, who was a craftsman himself, wanted to get rid of the factory. So we took over his company and started with 10 people. Within two years, we had approximately 100 people working for us.

B: The big difference between my father and me? My father made and developed things, which were then sold. That's how it was done at the time. Now we look more at what's happening in the market and what the target group wants and what we can come up with next. So we really look from the perspective of the market. My father looked more at the materials and what could be made from them.

JR: Bernhard is very good at connecting with people, with customers. I used to maintain contact with one or two customers. Bernhard knows most of our customers, which is also important to keep customers on board. He does that very well.

Developments are evolving at a rapid pace, so there must be a lot happening in the family business.

B: Every year we come up with new things. New printing techniques, painting techniques, you name it. For example, we are now working on beautiful packaging in which we combine wood and cardboard. Recently, we have also tapped into new markets. In your time, dad, cigar boxes constituted 100% of our production, that's now about 25%. It was also our intention not to be dependent on a specific market, but we didn't expect it to take such a flight.

JR: And the quality level is very high. Even the simplest of boxes get a chic look. The great thing about a family business is that I'm able to keep up to speed with what goes on in it.

B: My dad has always been involved. Every other month, for example, there is a board meeting, at which he is also present. The company results and large-scale plans and investments are discussed at this meeting. My father has a wealth of experience, it's a great pleasure to discuss and exchange ideas with him.

JR: It's a family business, so you're always involved. Although I must say times have changed. However, if you see what's possible now…

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